Adrienne Bailey and Justin Bailey
DescriptionAdrienne Bailey (68) and her son Justin Bailey (41) discuss life for Adrienne in Chatanooga, her college and career advances, meeting her husband, D'Army Bailey, and his contribution towards establishing the Civil Rights Museum.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Adrienne Bailey
- Justin Bailey
Recording LocationNational Civil Rights Museum
Partnership TypeFee for Service
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00:07 My name is Justin Bailey and I'm 41 years old. Today's date is March 3rd 2020. I'm here at the national Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and I'm interviewing my mother Adrienne Bailey.
00:20 My name is Adrian Leslie Bailey. I am 68 years old. Today is March 3rd 2020. I'm here in Memphis, Tennessee.
00:31 Walking with my oldest son my first-born Justin Leslie Bailey.
00:39 Mom tell me a little bit about where you were born in your childhood growing up in Chattanooga fascinating little town. I remember.
00:55 Growing up with two loving parents. My mom and my dad Marion and Ophelia Leslie.
01:03 My dad worked in a steel mill. He was a crane operator. Mom had alot jobs working. Basically. She was at home with the girls was four of us had two older sisters Sandra and Diane they were bit older than me 10 that 11 years older and then my baby sister Valerie who was 7 years younger. I remember Chattanooga this being a very segregated Community, but very nurturing in a way to I must say even though there's a lot of segregation.
01:49 I had a great quality of life there. I think I had prop possibly one of the best education that a kid could have during no circumstances. I remember I went to an elementary school Orchard knob Junior High School has such great teachers and what's a non grading system. It was something the new that they brought in there was a new pilot situation that they were using their but we didn't get like a b c and d everything was written in prose. So you were individually monitored as far as your progress and I thought that was always very interesting because it would say would pick up, you know from last semester Adrian had struggled reading perhaps but through the intervention and threw her practice and hard work. It has improved so it always gave you a kind of a
02:48 A wonderful view of yourself not like you were failing but really highlighting the achievements of the progress that you were making and I thought that was very very good As I Grew Older I understood that the pilot that we use we were we were being put on a special program where we were kind of we were had all been tested. So we were destined for
03:16 Success basically an education even though I didn't know it because it we would never made aware of that. So a lot of my classmates are gone on to do some wonderful things and I'm very pleased with the education that that I got. I remember always living in a black community when I was very very young. I remember we had our own Hospital pharmacies little grocery stores then integration came about and it kind of wiped out our entire black community and we didn't own this many. Thanks this we used to so that was kind of sad the Black Hospital close.
04:07 The little small businesses in clusters kind of dried up and but we were still through urban renewal. We still lived in Black communities, but what it's not as much Commerce.
04:23 And you left Chattanooga to attend college in Columbia, Missouri. Tell me little bit about that. That was just very strange. I remember one day my English teacher Miss Jessel Bell. We had such wonderful teachers in high school. They were very professionals. I mean they were they were revered in the community and they really cared about us going forward and being successful and I remember her asking and class. She went down one by one in each student in the class asked where we going to school and I remember she got to meet and I told her where I'm going to Tennessee State and she had this look on her face and I remember her saying Leslie. I need to see you after school after class and I will grade was this. This is 11th grade. I think it was the 11th grade and
05:20 So I wait after class Miss Miss Dale. She was she was excellent teacher, but I remember her she she told me she said you're not going to Tennessee State. Okay, so just let me work on this and she worked on it. And anyway, I ended up interviewing it to three different. I had an interview for Stephens College for Bennett and for Vassar and I interviewed and I was I got a gain entry to all three of those and then it was up to the family to decide where I would go to college and my family wasn't my parents didn't graduate from from college. I didn't go to college and I kind of said will
06:13 Bennett we don't know about that bastard. That's too far and Stevens that sounds good. If you'll go to Stevens this in Missouri, so it's a little closer. That's how I ended up there on a scholarship in Stevens and your older sisters with the TSU. Is that is that why you wanted to go there? I mean, that's the only thing I know I didn't do anything else. I'd have all their friends went to Tennessee State. I really didn't even know of any other college. It's amazing how you can be an opportunity as weren't abound at that time. So you're kind of Circle of making decisions was limited when your younger sister went to TSU.
07:00 And then she changed the Middle, Tennessee still Tennessee State. And what was why didn't you teach what you go TSU? What was what was herb Jackson? Thought she just thought I needed something bigger better broader. I was a good student. My parents made sure of that.
07:21 And after college, where did you go next after college, which was a wonderful thing after being in a 4 years in a women's college. I got my first job might my major was Communications. I was groomed to be anchor. I always like working behind the scenes behind with the cameras in the production team, but they always screw me to be in front of the camera. I got my first job at wwl-tv in New Orleans drive to New Orleans. How long were you doing in the bottom of the year?
08:04 That's when I figured out I really didn't like TV.
08:09 I didn't like the wait.
08:12 It was right. I mean you had very little control over your destiny. I mean, it was some guy sitting behind a desk that call the shots on everything and either you went with the program are your didn't one of the experiences that really made my decision to not go into stay at the TV station. I recall one day being in The Newsroom.
08:40 And this gentleman that had been working there at the station for many many years. He was old little man, and he came to work one day and someone else was sitting at his desk.
08:53 I thought that was like so inhumane I cooked. I mean they don't even have the decency to call this man in it was just horrible. I felt terrible for him.
09:05 So after you decided to television wasn't for you, what did you do? What year was that? Was that 1970-71?
09:14 And would you do after that you go to Nashville to Nashville. I went back to Chattanooga for a brief while and I was interviewed for a job with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
09:29 Insurance health insurance and they were eager to have their first female black salesperson.
09:41 So I interview and I got the job and I had to pass the test the state test and that was very interesting because I've never had one of those before but surprisingly enough. Well, it wasn't surprisingly I was a good student. I passed the test and I moved they assigned me to Nashville and that was quite an experience still not allowed to stay in Nashville.
10:13 To two years perhaps you about two years. I hated that job really did it was horrible. I was the only woman and how the only black person with like 20 white guys in this office and they were all like redneck kite guys. They were just awful and every day was just a challenge just going to work but they assigned me more house in Tennessee state that area. So my sales were always wonderful, but I hated the job.
10:52 What did you do after you two years there after my two years there?
10:59 Can't do something that I had cut my teeth on and that was a Cosmetics industry when I was in high school.
11:07 Chatham drugs was a company that was right at the foot of Lookout Mountain and I was like a little gopher like a little office girl at at there and they had this is when they first started getting into black the black Cosmetics distance and they had a black chemist on staff there and that chemists I would be stuffing envelopes, but he would use me as a guinea pig and I will have colors going all it up and down my arm all on my cheeks on my neck to see if they would change colors and stuff. So I learned a lot about the Cosmetics industry. So I've started working for flori Roberts cosmetics and that was interesting too because
11:54 I was all over the country. I was in I was in the sales. So I may be in Florida for one week, you know that they have the ads in the newspaper come and let Adrian, you know, do your professional makeover in a so it was hard work on your feet just as soon as the store open and then I would work all weekend. I was supposed to go back home, but then they want me to go to Chicago and I would have been in Florida for a week and I go like I don't even have a coat or boots are no such as by coat and boots and go to Chicago. So I was on the road a lot and it was very lonely. What brought you to Memphis love?
12:44 Tell me about the first time you met dad.
12:52 Stevens it was in my head that I was going to be this professional woman and I had no aspirations of getting married. None of that have a family and one day as I said, it was a very very lonely job because I couldn't I was a nice looking lady and I was very very young I was was
13:22 So I had to like work all day and then go to my room and see this is early. This is like 70, so it wouldn't internet and all that of a watch whatever it was on television read a book have room service because I found that if I went out like in a restaurant or down in the bar or whatever.
13:45 I get some note from some guy or they'd send me a drink or can I join you? So instead of going through all that I just was in my room. So I remember my my one of my neighbors in my apartment complex in.
14:02 In Nashville said well when you go to Memphis see my girlfriend. She's she works for a lawyer. She's a secretary and she knows everybody and I so I started when I come to Memphis I have dinner with her or if she knew about parties and stuff cocktail parties. Whatever. On this one occasion. She she said it was kind of like must have been September November Sunset where in the part of time of the year. Where was Cole in the I mean cool in the mornings and Cooling in but if we get hot in the day, but anyway, we were going somewhere we're going to dinner and she said well, I left my jacket and I have at this lawyer's office and that's when
14:47 I told her so will you go on and get your check? And she said that make any sense come on with me and we can just leave from there. So I remember walking through the door and I remember seeing the back down the highway the back of this man sitting in a chair and I remember him turning around and he took a double-take and then he got up and he started walking down the hall toward me. She was talking to the secretary there and I remember him asking me may I help you? I said we'll know I'm like here with my piano and he come up at come on back and he took me in the conference room and I sat down and that was his brother Walter and Otis Higgs. They had a law office law practice together and they were asking me a million questions where you from. What's your name while we were talking?
15:47 Batteries Plus, yeah, they're asking questions. Damn. It was just sitting next to me kind of real quiet and they were talking and
15:56 All of a sudden out of Walkers mouth comes the Army's not married and I was embarrassed. I could tell Deer Hunter was embarrassed I-70. I mean, he said you want to see my my my office I said, okay, so he took me to his office. And of course, it was very impressive. He had all of his plaques and credentials up there and I remember I said, oh you graduated from Yale and he said yeah and then he asked me out and I told him no I couldn't go out cuz I was going with my friend and he want to know how long you going to be here. So anyway, I told him he where are you staying? And I remember I went on and on about my way and
16:38 I meant the next day when I got after work after working all day at goldsmiths. I got back to my hotel. And this is funny because his tells you the side of the time. I have like these pink slips, you know, the little pink message slip I have about four of them hit call here, and I called him back and we went out and we were married six months later.
17:10 So tell me this. What is the first time you realize dad was the Army Bailey and it's not like now we just a Google somebody and find out about the background and you know 10 seconds. When did you find out about his background at its Southern and Clark and then New York and in Berkeley and all that stuff. I knew he had lived a very interesting life. I think one of the most remarkable things in my mind was gosh, you know.
17:47 First of all that he graduated from Yale law school because the Army was 10 years older than me and I was just thinking about how I struggle is Stevens doing the seventies and just what he must have gone through being there at Yale during the time that he did and being successful at it. The other thing that was very interesting to me was of course Berkeley beserkley because that was some crazy times in hearing all the stories. I mean he was like
18:28 He was like a walking.
18:32 Encyclopedia or it was just so much information in so many life experiences. I mean if you name the person he could he would go like oh, yeah, that's blah blah blah and I knew you know, and he knew if he knew this person and they were friend of his so that was he was just fascinating. He was a fascinating man that Forrest Gump cuz he's always in the middle of some historical event. Just kind of stumbled into it.
19:02 So when did Dad
19:08 Say anything to you or indicate his interest in in the Civil Rights Museum it start in this idea of the Civil Rights Museum of History. He had a deep deep love for history and civil rights. And I remembered they were they were struggling down here with the Lorraine Motel and I remember truck Chuck Scruggs who was with the radio station was having difficulty really getting traction. I mean they were going to put on this musical kind of thing to help try to raise funds so they could save the Lorraine Motel. So in there struggling, I think that's kind of what
19:58 What led to him being engaged or involved in it? And he started?
20:07 Really communicating more lending his talents as a lawyer in trying to preserve it because it hadn't they have not been successful at getting any any traction with it. I mean during those times.
20:26 The majority I would say or many many people could not see they didn't have the vision again. It was the Army since he loved history. So he realized historical importance of preserving this space.
20:45 A lot of naysayers were saying it was morbid and
20:51 I know I have to say to it was a lot of Shame Memphis felt a shame that this was the place where dr. King took his last breath.
21:03 The other thing is the Army expanded even beyond the loss of dr. King's life here. But he also understood the importance of preserving it as far as far as the time and what this meant. What does space meant Beyond just doctor Kings engagement? This was the Panacea our place where black people could come live because we couldn't go to the Peabody or the other places that were here, but green book hotel. Yes, it was and about what year was that when when at least when you were aware that this idea was starting to come into Focus LLC.
21:53 If we roll back to the early must have been the 80s because it took him 10 years. It took him 10 whole years and bringing preserving the space number one it cuz it was what 1991 I believe it was when it open as a museum.
22:16 So we're going back to the you know, I tell people this story if I had.
22:24 $100 for every time
22:27 That we would go out to a social engagement or meeting and we would end up park right there on Mulberry Street looking up at that balcony. I would be a millionaire we would always end up sitting there in the car and he would go over and over again Adrian. We've got to preserve at this space. This space has to be protected. It's too important.
22:59 So he he got it and I would have been the early eighties at 10 years. So I guess I was going to Route 81 and 82 somewhere in there. So we're talking about when he really got the Roll Another really knowing about it or being engaged and it was before that but really putting his boots on the ground and getting the land and all of that started in their 80s. So, I mean, we're talkin not even you know, 15 years after dr. King's assassination in 68 and
23:34 What are your earliest memories to be in the house with Dad when this idea really started to percolate when it when he really started to get rolling. I was pushing his ball down the road. He was I never
23:51 In my life seen anyone so focused.
23:55 Driven and committed
24:00 He spent and I used to say this.
24:05 The Civil Rights Museum which it became now was his mistress.
24:13 The hours
24:16 I mean you as a child you may not have a deep regulation. But do you do you realize the time that he put you in the car you and your brother Merritt if you were born in 81, so it was right the whole time. It was growing up Dad was working on this Museum that he brought you down here or someone was coming into town and he would take you all along and even during the construction of the museum. You all used to play all all that back part where the exhibits are you all used to play there that was useful playground. He Incorporated it was your life. This was a part of our life. He never dropped the ball on it if he wasn't writing about it. He was talking about it. He was always thinking about it.
25:08 I remember one time he would go across the country talking about.
25:14 The Lorraine Motel because see he didn't know at that point what it should be it it kind of morphed into it should be in a Civil Rights Museum and I think it's early idea was to be something along the lines by the Schomburg Center New York. When I kind of a living meat meat space and think tank. Yes. Yes that. That's what he really wanted because he saw the Civil Rights Movement as evolving and ever-changing. Yes ever-changing and it should have a place where mine could come together and and focus and create and and be in front of not behind the times of of changed and civil rights is deeply entrenched his dad was
26:09 Throughout the 80s in in getting this project off the ground. It wasn't at that time. Would it be come at this point? Right? I mean was it met with the same kind of excitement was with he met with the same kind of excitement and envision and support for the idea that we we see today in the museum. Absolutely not. I mean it was like put pushing a huge boulder up a very very steep hill and many many times. I felt like he was alone.
26:48 I have to be honest with you Justin. I talked to Dan Harmon. I sat down with him one time and said why are you doing this? And he said he would explain to me Adrian. I mean it was so clear. I could see in his vision and then his eyes the importance of this space what it could become and what it could be. There was so many nice ears. And of course it was in 1991 when the doors open that the light bulb went on to a whole lot of people about how we get it now and that was the beginning of a very painful. I think in my life because it was like, okay you built the museum that go away
27:41 That's how I felt. I felt that they want to abandon the man that it puts so much blood and passion and energy into it. I mean he had been I can I mean a lot of those that pre-work and stuff that was that was funded by things that he did personally traveling throughout the country and rallying and raising money and going back and forth to Nashville every week.
28:11 Every week and you know what I want to say this because you don't people, you know, there have been some nice ears with Hughes. You didn't do it by yourself. Nobody does anything but themselves it takes all of us in the Army engaged people and brought them in.
28:34 To help to do this, but he was the Catalyst it was always steady was always there that was always pushing it and was always engaged then was going back and forth to Nashville to get the funding and into the state to the state to the city to the county. It was it was a data struggle.
29:00 Now a lot of people aren't is intimately familiar with the history of the museum, obviously and particularly in the early nineties when there was a power struggle internally amongst the board and Dad talked a little bit about that. I do you say those one of those painful periods for you you were the person was closest to Dad. Obviously we were kids. So even we weren't really late in what kind of man outside looking into all that tell us for those who are familiar with that that part of it and tell us what you remember about that. This was a learning experience for me as well and help me to grow and help me to see broader.
29:47 What are the most important statements your dad ever made to me?
29:53 And it holds to this day.
29:56 He said to me Adrian.
29:59 I set out to build the Civil Rights Museum.
30:05 And it's done now it's done. He thought so broad. I mean he he again so beyond himself.
30:19 Yes, I felt like I was born with it when it turned around and they wanted and they did successfully put him off the board as chair because I knew of all of the sacrifices that he had personally made. I mean time that he could have more time. They could have been spending with you and your brother and with the family but
30:46 He did this as a project. So but he saw beyond that.
30:53 Because what he worked on he realize was much greater.
30:59 Then himself
31:02 It goes beyond.
31:05 One person because I look now at you know the museum
31:11 It's here.
31:13 It has totally been the Catalyst for all of them Museum's civil rights museums that have sprung up across the country and it gets people to think anymore about civil. Right and it empowers us as a people and I guess it's another way of saying regardless of who's running or what direction is gone in that Legacy is the fact that it's here and what it what all its
31:43 Expanded to Across the Nation and wall is adding attributed to history and all the the de schoolchildren and it will come here and learn something story has been preserved here at the Museum.
32:00 Is there any one particular moment that from all that time? I mean I I I know all the like you said we have been through this with him countless times. I know it has been redone but the old building the old Museum we just played backwards and forwards is there and we were here with some everybody we company bad here dozens. If not hundreds of times. Is there any one particular moment that stands out to you here at the museum with Dad maybe when Rosa Parks was here with him or anything that stands out to you started.
32:46 When he started building a building to the museum, I remember that they cut out a piece of cement that was on that balcony.
32:59 That was still staying with doctor kingsblood. I remember he had them to cut that out to preserve that piece and the other story of when Rosa Parks did visit the museum and got on the bus at told him told the Army. I wasn't sitting there and he was thinking all well, you know, she's older she doesn't remember you do but indeed she was not so they had to have the statue moved to where she was sitting and if you look very closely you can still see the but where the holes are there where they had drilled a her statue into the the foundation of of the fuss, but
33:49 Ghost stories
33:51 The people that have visited hear the stories that we remember when he went through the design with the people from the Smithsonian. He named, you know, the Edmund Pettus bridge and these historical pieces of the Civil Rights Movement my movement that needed to be told and preserved. I remember I at the lunch counter and he even wanted to sound of the barking dogs, and he wanted to bring the intensity the pain the fear the struggle so people could really see what black people in this country went through.
34:35 Sew-in and that's that's a good point that he didn't just raise money and then kind of turn it over and hire a bunch of subcontinent. He was very Hands-On. He was very intimately involved in every detail. He sat down because he had this vision of how he wanted it to be he wanted people to feel the pain because it was paying a lot of pain. Have you been to the museum since the renovations? I have not I haven't been invited. I've been invited to a very few things. I wasn't even invited to celebrate 5th. What is the celebration? So I I don't I don't know. What's no I haven't seen it. I don't I don't think Dad got an opportunity to see it either. I know you spoke at the grand reopening that I remember cuz I came down here with him and
35:29 And for some reason another week we had to leave at right afterwards. And I remember I came down here and I took a tour for the first time all day. I was in the hospital and cuz I put the time where I was working. We have two men turned it down and we took them out there and that's the first time I had seen it and I remember he asked me my Impressions and I kind of walked them through what it was like now it was my impression of what it was like now, but I was going to ask you what your impression was, I guess you and you haven't had an opportunity to see it.
36:09 So beyond this Museum, which obviously is a tremendous Legacy.
36:19 How else do you envision dad's Legacy?
36:25 Well, you know in people's heart.
36:30 They know.
36:33 But they know his contribution and it makes me proud when I drive by the judge the Army Bailey Courthouse.
36:42 I drop by there every week.
36:44 I guess I want to make sure that the sign is still there.
36:48 But he gave so much. I've never known anyone like him, and I know that I never will again.
36:57 Such a dedicated committed person who had his dream and he made it come true growing up in our household. Dad. You know he
37:17 He introduced us to a lot at an early age. I think we grew up probably with a much greater appreciation for history and historical figures. You know where my mind is torkoal figures these folks that have been in our house and you talk about the Joseph Lowery's and the Ralph Abernathy's and Muhammad Ali come into the house, you know, definitely Rosa Parks, we definitely
37:54 Grew up in a very different kind of environment. So close to history with that and some of my most cherished moments with Dad were certainly here at the Museum.
38:12 The trips we took out a Philadelphia Mississippi of the Freedom Riders of the Freedom Summer down there and again that you know the damn damn introduced to Diane Nash and all these folks like, you know, it would just neighbors he was he was truly deeply interested on a warrior the movement and personally knew a lot of these folks and how do you spell a lot of respect for Dad? He was a populist. He was never much of an establishment guy is fair and he was such a teacher the way he would open people's minds up because they were going to I didn't agree with him, but when I listened to him that's quite an attribute to be able to do that. Yeah. A lot of people don't agree with it, but they respect them and he always had
39:08 He always had a very interesting in global way of looking at things. Like you said, he's just very Visionary always just had an extreme focus and when he got
39:22 Focused on something go get it done. And I remind my friends now because we're getting older and we lament about things and I want to say and he would always say if you're not having a good time.
39:37 It's your fault.
39:39 So that's so empowering because that gives you put you in the position to make change into do change it to make things go the way you would like for them to go. He's greatly missed and that's the reason you know, when we did his Monument his Ledger. I'm so pleased with it. It's a beautiful piece of art because he loved art as well. And when it says about him being a writer and actor and also the founder of the national Civil Rights Museum, he certainly did a lot.
40:22 I think we're just about done anything else you'd like to say to memorialize this oral history of dead silence the rest of the end so badly and I was so pleased. I remember you know it you talked about Joy, but the Joy on his face when I told him he had the first son and the he was just I saw every tooth and happy he's smile from ear-to-ear and then when we had our second child, and it was a boy too, so he had two sons.
40:58 That have a lot to be proud of and I really don't think you'd arrived any Greater Joy than sharing a lot of this history with me. It was me and married cuz we were long for a lot of the rides at the spine.
41:12 You know, I remember I was thinking about that accident to call and Cousin Eddie or whatever cuz I was thinking about we went down to Jackson Mississippi for Byron Byron de la Beckwith trial brother 95-96 more on there. But yeah, well, you know, I miss that greatly and I love you dearly and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Well, thank you for having me down here to talk about it. I didn't know if I would be strong enough. I mean it is a struggle to well. It was a it was a fantasy being married to the Army for 40 years and sharing all of the greatness that he made happen and it is he's missed my life is changed but wonderful wonderful experiences.
42:06 That I've had I've lived a great life and we can talk about a lot. We only got 40 minutes. Well, I guess we'll wrap up there.